Reinventing the Field Trip — Designing a GPS Smartphone Tour

[This article summarizes a for the International Journal of Designs for Learning]

Kyle Clements
Jul 26, 2017 · 5 min read


Once a semester, college students in an introductory science course have the option of attending a field trip to learn more about local geology. The goal of this project was to provide an alternative means of participating in the field trip that is scalable, accessible, and fun.

I was awarded a grant to complete this project and collaborated with course instructors to get it done.

Design Process

I repeated the following design process several times to complete this project.


Target Audience: Students enrolled in Physical Science 100.

  • Roughly 4000 students a year
  • Majority are college freshmen or sophomores
  • Varied levels of interest in the subject matter
  • Wide range of physical capability

Stakeholders: Present and future course professors, assistants and students.

Content: I assembled content for the tour from textbooks, pamphlets, course materials, and other related resources.

Photos: Sample of materials from which content was gathered.

Constraints: Limited funding. 6 month timeline. Reduced cell phone service. Assignment time limit of 1–1.5 hours

Setting: Outdoors. Tall canyon walls. Seasonal river. Hot summer. Snowy winter. Unpaved trails.

Image: View of Rock Canyon on .

Ideate and Design

The constraints of this project presented several challenges I needed to find solutions for.

Limited Cellphone Coverage: All necessary files were downloaded to the device prior to reaching the canyon. Content is triggered by the device’s GPS coordinates, which are available regardless of data service.

Multimedia and Text: I utilized existing media where possible to reduce the time and cost of the project. Where no previous resources existed, I wrote content and took photos. I ensured all content was reviewed by subject matter experts.

Animation courtesy of the

Selecting Points of Interest: Many geologic features were recommended for the tour. I visited each site to evaluate whether the location’s instructional value was worth the added distance. The final tour had 10 locations.

Ordering Locations: Testing revealed that snowy weather and a seasonal river would alter the most efficient route depending on the season. For this reason, instead of forcing students to follow a specific path, I allowed them to complete the tour in any order. This required me to design content for each site that was understandable regardless of order.

Photos: Summer and Winter at at Rock Canyon

Accessibility: I included a feature that would enable students who could not complete the hike to tap through the locations instead of actually hiking along the trail.

Prototype / Test

I used Google Maps to create and test prototypes of the tour route.

Image: A prototype built with Google MyMaps.

Programming: I chose MIT’s to develop the tour for multiple reasons:

  • Portability: Allows for all tour content to be downloaded to the student’s device.
  • iOS/Android Support
  • Future Maintenance: A simple graphical user interface (GUI) and the block-based coding system would make future maintenance of the tour much easier for others.
Screenshots: MIT TaleBlazer’s easy-to-use graphical user interface.

Ensuring a Smooth Experience: I tested several versions of the tour on both iOS and Android devices. Multiple iterations led to a reliably smooth experience on either platform.

Directing Attention: Those testing the tour did not always know if they were facing the correct direction at a given waypoint. For this reason, I added photographs that could direct student attention to the correct landmarks at each location.

Photos: Locations students visit along the tour.


Job Aid: I created step-by-step instructions to direct students to download the tour. This reduced the number of questions students asked the professor regarding the logistics of the assignment.

Photo: Digital job-aid explaining how to download and access the tour.


Average Time Spent Per Student: 42 minutes

Tour Downloads: 250+

Qualitative Feedback

What was your favorite part of the experience?

  • “Was able to understand all the different rock formations in person.”
  • “The beautiful hike.”
  • “Being outside and enjoying…”

How did the guided smartphone tour affect your hiking experience?

  • “Enhanced it”
  • “It really helped where I needed to go.”
  • “Positive”

Did you feel that you took more, less, or the same amount of time completing the tour as you would have had you not utilized Tale Blazer?

  • “Less time for sure as it was convenient and right on key.”
  • “Same.”


Creating a GPS smartphone tour taught me several important lessons in experience design:

  • The learner’s experience always extends beyond the screen.
  • Repeated cycles of prototyping and testing lead to key insights.
  • Plan how much time you will take to debug….and double it.

Contact Me!

Thank you for reading. I am always looking to grow my network. If you are working on a similar project, let me know if I can help!

Kyle Clements

Written by

Full-time learner, interested in all things at the crossroads of design and learning.

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